Ex-Gay Group Soliciting Positive Testimonials To Defend Against Lawsuit
September 25th, 2013
Rich Wyler, director of of the ex-gay group People Can Change, has sent out an email to address what he calls an “urgent need for first-person testimonials, to help defend against (a) lawsuit.” The lawsuit in question was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of four former clients and two of the parents, against JONAH (an ex-gay group for Jews), its founder Arthur Goldberg, and counselor Alan Downing, alleging that they committed fraud in claiming to be able to cure clients of the gay.
Two of the former clients in the lawsuit, Benjamin Ungar and Chaim Levin, described some of the so-called therapies that Downing conducted, which included encouraging Ungar and Levin (separately) to undress and touch their genitals with Downing present. Levin complied, but Ungar resisted (as did another client, according to the complaint). Downing, who has admitted to still being attracted to men, has also included cuddling and hugging as part of his therapy. Goldberg later admitted admitted, and defended, the practice of asking clients to undress, but he denied that anyone was asked to touch their genitals. In February 2010, it was revealed that Arthur Goldberg had been convicted as a Wall Street swindler in 1989.
The lawsuit also alleges that Downing led his clients through verbally abusive exercises in which clients were directed to either act out or stage traumatic events using other clients as actors in the “psychodrama.”
Downing, in addition to being a counselor for JONAH, is also listed on the People Can Change website as a “Senior Facilitator” for Journey into Manhood, which is a controversial “ex-gay” backwoods retreat designed to supposedly make gay men more masculine. That retreat also includes communal cuddling and other homoerotic exercises.
It’s apparently because of Downing’s connection with People Can Change that Wyler has decided to try to come to JONAH’s rescue with his urgent email:
We need your help!
There is an urgent need for numerous first-person testimonials demonstrating that, yes, some people really have reduced or eliminated their same-sex attractions through deliberate interventions like gender-affirming counseling, experiential weekend programs, supportive religious ministries, non-sexual same-gender bonding, etc.
We especially need testimonials from people who are willing to use their real names; however, anonymous testimonials are needed and very welcome, as well.
Even if you are still on the “journey” and haven’t yet experienced significant change — or at least not a reduction in unwanted same-sex attractions — your answers in support of voluntary change efforts could still be very helpful.
Also, if you’ve had positive experiences overall with counseling, experiential training/retreats, SSA ministries, etc., your answers could be very helpful.
The email then includes an individualized link to a Survey Monkey questionnaire of approximately twenty questions, including a mix of multiple choice and free-form text, asking respondents about their experiences in trying to change their sexual orientation. It also asks about the client’s religious affiliation, type of therapist (professional, counselor, minister, life coach, etc.) and the degree to which the respondent feels that he has changed. The email then continued with its explanation for why they were collecting this information:
Now here’s some background leading to this request: The SSA support organization JONAH has been hit with a politically motivated lawsuit alleging that supposedly no one with same-sex attractions (SSA) can ever diminish, reduce or alter those attractions, and therefore JONAH’s claim that change is ever possible allegedly constitutes consumer fraud.
In our first-hand experience at People Can Change, this is absurd.
If this lawsuit succeeds, every counselor, nonprofit organization or religious ministry that serves SSA men and women who seek to change will be targeted next.
To help inoculate the cause against these kinds of false allegations, and to help support JONAH in its lawsuit, People Can Change is collecting first-person testimonials of men and women who have experienced a meaningful reduction in unwanted same-sex attractions and/or an increase in opposite-sex attractions.
We are also seeking testimonials from people who can personally attest to the efficacy of such interventions as psychodrama, “guts work,” or emotional-release processes such as those often used on experiential weekends or trainings.
Please help! Please answer this questionnaire, and forward it to others, as well, who may also be able to testify of the reality of sexual orientation change efforts.
September 5th, 2012
You may recall the report from a couple of years ago when Ted Cox went undercover to ex-gay group Journey Into Manhood’s weekend in the woods:
I sat on the floor between the outstretched legs of a camp guide, my head leaning back against his shoulder. The guide sat behind me, his arms wrapped around my chest. This hold was called “The Motorcycle.” Five men surrounded the two of us, their hands resting gently on my arms, legs and chest.
But what do you do if it isn’t a JIM weekend? What if you need some Motorcycle touch-therapy right now?
Well, fortunately London design student Si Chan has a solution:
See. He looks more manly already.
Ex-Gay Leader Admits To “Naked Therapy” Within His Organization
January 12th, 2012
In 2010, two former ex-gay clients of an unlicensed therapist associated with JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) came forward to describe a “psychological striptease” in which their ex-gay therapist had them strip and touch their genitals as part of their ex-gay “therapy.” The therapist, Alan Downing, who admits that he is still attracted to men, has declined to comment. But in an article published in the New York-based The Jewish Week last December, JONAH founder Arthur Goldberg both admitted and defended the practice of asking clients to undress, but denied that anyone was asked to touch their genitals:
On very rare occasions, for those suffering from “severe body image issues,” a JONAH therapist may have asked a client to undress, but only with three people present in the room, said the group’s founder, Arthur Goldberg.
“As far as I’m aware,” a JONAH therapist has never asked a client to touch himself during a session, he said. (Former ex-gay client Chaim) Levin said there were no witnesses in the room with him and Downing and that the door was locked.
Downing is a therapist for the Jonah Institute for Gender Affirmation and is listed on the People Can Change website as a “Senior Facilitator” for Journey into Manhood, which is a controversial “ex-gay” backwoods retreat designed to supposedly make gay men more masculine.
In February 2010, it was revealed that Arthur Goldberg had been convicted as a Wall Street swindler in 1989.
Nightline features Journey Into Manhood tonight
November 8th, 2010
ABC’s Nightline will feature ex-gay group Journey Into Manhood tonight:
The retreat called “Journey to Manhood” offers therapeutic peer counseling over 48 hours to help men like Preston, who voluntarily come to learn how to deal with what they call “same-sex attractions.” For the first time ever, the retreat allowed cameras inside their controversial organization and ABC News was granted exclusive access.
Built on the premise that gay men are really just wanting to connect with their fathers, JIM is a hodge-podge of psychobabble and Cohen-style cuddling. It will be interesting to see how ABC handles this story, but the practices of Journey Into Manhood do not lend themselves to the light of exposure.
Ex-Gay “Life Coach” Accused of Sexual Impropriety
July 19th, 2010
Truth Wins Out released a video today featuring two former clients of “ex-gay” life coach Alan Downing who allege that as part of their “therapy”, Downing made them undress in front of a mirror and touch their bodies while the older therapist watched. The two former clients, Ben Unger and Chaim Levin, liken the sessions to a “psychological striptease” say they were harmed by what they consider unprofessional behavior and sexual misconduct.
According to a statement from Truth Wins Out:
Downing, who admits he is still attracted to men, is a major player in the “ex-gay” industry and a practitioner of so-called “reparative therapy”. He is the lead therapist for Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH) and is listed on the People Can Change website as a “Senior Trainer” for Journey into Manhood, which is a controversial “ex-gay” backwoods retreat designed to supposedly make gay men more masculine.
For more background information on Journey Into Manhood, you can read about journalist Ted Cox’s undercover report here where he describes some of the group’s homoerotic “therapy” techniques.
JONAH is headed by Arthur Abba Goldberg, who was revealed last February as having been convicted of a Wall Street swindle in 1989. He was convicted of a conspiracy to defraud the United States in a scheme to sell fake bonds to cash-strapped cities. Goldberg founded JONAH after serving his eighteen-month prison sentence.
In the latest video, Ungar and Levin describe their “therapy” sessions with Downing:
“He was encouraging me, ‘it’s okay Ben, you can take your shirt off’…here was a man that was much older than me, and I was around 20,” said Ben Unger, a former client of Alan Downing. “At that point, I was just staring at a mirror with my shirt off and he was right behind me staring at the mirror with me at my body. Then telling me to look at my body and feel my body. It was weird.”
“While I was standing there without my clothes on, he asked me to touch my genitals,” says former Downing client Chaim Levin. “Once again, I communicated that I was not comfortable with it. And he was like, you know, ‘just feel yourself. Just feel it for a second. So, you can grasp your masculinity physically.'”
Ted Cox’s Journey Into Manhood
April 13th, 2010
We’ve had Tex Cox here before, writing about meeting Caleb Lee Brundidge during an ex-gay “Journey Into Manhood” event. (Cox would later discover that Brundidge was one of the three Americans who appeared at the March 2009 anti-gay conference in Kampala, otherwise known as the “nuclear bomb against the gay agenda”.) Cox is a straight former Mormon journalist who spent more than a year undercover in the ex-gay movement posing as a gay Christian man struggling to overcome his homosexuality. He’s currently writing a book about his experiences in the ex-gay movement, and this week he embarks on a series about attending a Journey Into Manhood weekend. The first part of his series debuted on Stinque on Monday, and the second excerpt was posted today. The entire series has been uploaded onto Scribd.
Journey Into Manhood, an ex-gay program recommended by NARTH, is one of those wilderness programs ostensibly designed to allow gay men to get in touch with their masculinity while addressing the lack of affection and affirmation they supposedly received from their fathers. By doing so, goes the unproven theory, they fill their so-called masculine gender deficit, and become heterosexual. Or more heterosexual than they were before. Or celibate. Well that’s the theory anyway, and its one that Cox found wanting:
I don’t remember exactly when I felt his erection pressing into my back. It might have been while he whispered in my ear, “Long ago, you were the Golden Child. But, somehow, that Golden Child was hurt, and you put up a wall to protect yourself.”
…I sat on the floor between the outstretched legs of a camp guide, my head leaning back against his shoulder. The guide sat behind me, his arms wrapped around my chest. This hold was called “The Motorcycle.” Five men surrounded the two of us, their hands resting gently on my arms, legs and chest.
There were about ten other groups like this sitting on the floor in the darkened room: one guide giving “healing-touch therapy” while the surrounding men rested their hands on the receiver. Some men were held in the Motorcycle position. Others were turned towards their guide, cradled the way a parent would hold a sobbing child who had just scraped her knee on the sidewalk.
Being able to tell the story about Journey Into Manhood posed a particular challenge for Cox. Because Cox has signed a confidentiality agreement, JiM threatened legal action to keep the story from going public. But Cox said that he felt that, confidentiality agreement or no, he had to shine the light on the ex-gay movement:
I had to. If I don’t talk about this, this is going to keep happening. I met one man who is married and has children and he would go online to hook up with other men and he was having anonymous sex with strangers and then going home to his wife. Another man was married and making phone calls to gay-sex chat lines and his daughter discovered the bill. A lot of these men are living lies and it affects themselves, their wives, their children. I can’t stay silent about this. I feel like there’s a greater good in talking about this and exposing what’s going on.
My lunch date with Caleb Lee Brundidge
December 22nd, 2009
The last few weeks, media outlets have lit up over Uganda’s proposed “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” of 2009. In case you have been living under a rock for the last month, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: Ugandan legislators will soon vote on whether the government will execute HIV-positive men, imprison people for three years for not reporting homosexual activity and for seven years for supporting gay rights or providing services to gays and lesbians.
Last week, while following the story on Box Turtle Bulletin, I was shocked to see a familiar face in several related posts. Caleb Lee Brundidge, a staffer at “sexual reorientation coach” Richard Cohen’s International Healing Foundation, attended a Uganda anti-homosexuality conference organized by the Family Life Network. Brundidge was photographed eating lunch with American holocaust revisionist Scott Lively, Exodus International board member Don Schmierer and Family Life Network’s Stephen Langa.
I was surprised because I had met Brundidge the month before his Uganda trip. In fact, I asked him out for lunch. Let me explain:
I’m a straight dude who went undercover in so-called “ex-gay” programs. In February, I attended Journey into Manhood, an intense, 48-hour “experiential” retreat designed to help “same-sex attracted men” (SSA-men, in the lingo) become straight. Brundidge was a “Man of Service”, one of the lower-level volunteers who supported the senior staffers, called “Guides”, leading the weekend.
JiM staff employed all sorts of odd exercises intended to initiate us into the elusive world of masculine heterosexuality. To become straight, for example, men reenacted traumatic childhood memories and engaged in the holding-touch therapy pioneered by Cohen. (JiM co-founder Rich Wyler, a Brigham Young University public relations graduate and Certified Life Coach, is listed on IHF’s referral therapist page.)
One exercise, called Clearing, is a conflict-resolution technique where two men stand facing each other while grasping a gnarled wooden walking stick and verbally work out the issues they have with each another. Step 1: Physically describe the person. Step 2: Verbalize the story I tell myself about him. Finally, to resolve the conflict, staffers encouraged us to arrange later one-on-one time to speak with our fellow clear. Most men couldn’t hold back the embarrassed grin as they asked, “Would you have lunch with me today?”
I picked Brundidge for Clearing. I didn’t have an issue with him. Rather, he didn’t look like any of the other men attending the weekend. Brundidge’s long dreadlocks, tattoo-covered forearms and, yes, his dark skin—he’s an African-American man—distinguished him from the clean-cut, tattoo-free Anglo men attending the retreat. Clearing was my chance to speak with the one guy who didn’t look like everyone else.
Our clearing session was awkward. I followed the protocol explained by camp staffers while Brundidge shifted back and forth on his feet and kept looking away. Finally, I asked him to have lunch. He accepted.
OK, there was a personal reason behind my selecting Brundidge for Clearing. See, I love tattoos. At the time, I had two large tattoos hidden safely under my short-sleeve shirt. I wanted a third somewhere on my forearms, but I was freaked out about how visible ink could hinder my future employability. I wanted to know how Brundidge dealt with people’s reactions.
Brundidge found me at lunch and we talked about our ink-work. He told me how people were often shocked to learn he’s Christian. But, he sees that as a lesson they can learn about being quick to judge.
“You can’t choose how people will react,” he told me through bites of food. “You can only be true to yourself and to God.”
Brundidge sure doesn’t look like a stereotypical Christian, and he doesn’t worship like one, either.
He writes techno worship music, he said. He spins bass-heavy praise music at Club Mysterio, which, if you ignore the cry to “Awaken your hearts to God” coming through the microphone, looks like a tame rave. YouTube videos reveal strobe lights, glo-sticks and teenagers writhing to his music. (Brundidge can also be booked for weddings and high school functions, by the way.)
I would learn after the retreat that Brundidge’s involvement with Phoenix-based Extreme Prophetic Ministries included not only throwing raves-for-Jesus, but raising the dead. In another YouTube video, Extreme Prophetic Itinerant Melissa King describes how she and Brundidge took a field trip to several Phoenix mortuaries asking if they could resurrect the deceased. I’m guessing they didn’t have much luck.
I didn’t speak to Brundidge again until last week, after I had learned he traveled to Uganda to participate in the Family Life Network conference.
In his write-up in the summer 2009 IHF newsletter (PDF: 7MB/12 pages), Brundidge gives few details about the trip. He addressed the Ugandan Parliament, the Family Life Network conference and a church. He spoke on the radio and was interviewed by a newspaper. He describes his speech to Parliament as an effort “to help them understand a more compassionate response to anyone who experiences SSA.”
They must have missed that message. How could they get the message when Brundidge himself writes this about the situation in Uganda:
“As I mentioned, homosexual behavior is illegal and punishable by life in prison or even death. They have fear to go [sic]. On the other hand, the word is out on the street to the young people: If you want to make good money, pretend to be ‘gay.’ Why? Gay activists are recruiting impoverished young boys and girls, offering them money to impersonate homosexuals. ‘Just tell people you are gay and we\’ll pay you money.’ In this way, they are trying to skew the data regarding the numbers of people who are homosexual.”
In April, the month after Brundidge and company participated in the Family Life Network Conference, Ugandan legislators began drafting a bill to execute gays.
I e-mailed Brundidge last week, and, after identifying myself as a writer, asked him what he felt about all this. He referred me to the statement on IHF’s website. I pressed him in a follow-up e-mail. After all, didn’t he see how his “gays can change if they want to” message may have influenced the proposed legislation?
His reply, again, was brief:
“I really don’t have anything to say. What I shared is listed on the website on IHF. Thank you for emailing and giving me a opportunity to share. I believe you got a chance to get to know me at JIM so you know my heart is the heart of God. That is Love for all people.”
Up until now, Brundidge was relatively unknown in ex-gay circles. My guess is Brundidge’s race played a factor in his selection to travel to Uganda. Again, from his write-up:
“Upon my arrival, I was greeted by my host Stephen Langa…. He said, ‘Welcome home my brother.’ I was truly home! I saw my mother\’s face in many women.”
I made several attempts to get a comment from Cohen. He didn’t return my calls or e-mails. My guess is he stands to benefit financially from mandatory conversion therapy also being considered in Uganda; Brundidge has facilitated IHF’s TLC seminar and could easily hold similar—or even more intense—events there in the future.
This whole mess in Uganda is an example of how ex-gay ministries play both sides of the field: Brundidge and company speak of love and tolerance and being true to yourself while simultaneously spreading paranoia about gay activists recruiting children. They then feign shock when countries like Uganda draft “kill the gays” legislation.
Leaders of the ex-gay movement still don’t see how they are pawns in the hands of people like Don Schmierer and Scott Lively. Ex-gays and their “people can choose to change” message are used to justify punishing those who choose not to. When will ex-gays wake up and take a stand against the very people who want to see them dead?
I was certainly affected by my lunch conversation with Brundidge. The month after I returned home from JiM, I got a tattoo on my right forearm. Who cares if someone doesn’t like it?
Ted Cox is a free-lance writer from Sacramento, California. He was interviewed earlier this month by Sena Christian at AlterNet about some of his experiences from attending a retreat with Journey Into Manhood.
Undercover At Ex-Gay Camp
December 5th, 2009
Last summer, we mentioned Ted Cox, a straight man who decided to go undercover into the ex-gay world posing as a gay man conflicted over his sexuality. One of the programs he attended was called Journey Into Manhood. Ted tried to write about it last August for the (Salt Lake) City Weekly, but the paper backed down when Journey Into Manhood threatened to sue over a non-disclosure agreement that Ted had signed.
Today, AlterNet published an interview with Ted, in which he describes his experiences in the ex-gay movement. In particular, he describes his time with Journey Into Manhood:
At first, I was very confused and then I became amused. But as the weekend wore on, I became really angry and sad. I was angry because I feel these men are being lied to; they’re being charged $650 for a system that, I think, does not work. I feel [these men] are victims of religious abuse and being told that there is something wrong about their fundamental identity, that they are committing a grievous sin if a man acts on what comes naturally to him. That made me angry.
I saw one man distraught that he was damaging his own sons, that they would end up gay because he was not enough of a man. And I wanted to just hug him, and tell him, “It’s OK, it’s alright. So what if your kids turn out gay? And you can’t turn them gay.” I became sad because I saw men reenact traumatic events from their childhood. The paperwork tells you [camp staff members] are not acting as professionals so you have no idea how ethical this is, how safe — psychologically — any of these programs are. I felt sad that their pain was being used to exploit them to make them feel like that was the reason they were gay.
As we’ve reported before, much of the ex-gay theories center around blaming fathers for their sons’ homosexuality. I have also experienced heart-wrenching personal conversations with fathers at ex-gay conferences beating themselves up over their supposed failures as fathers. While I attended the Exodus “Freedom Conference” in Irvine, California, I talked with one father who came to tears over his teenage son’s revelation that he was gay. Unfortunately, as a condition of attending the conference, I was unable to say to that father what Ted Cox wanted to say. All I could do was remind him of what a great relationship he must have with his son that his son would trust him enough to reveal himself that way rather than continuing to hide it. Obviously, I was imensely dissatisfied with that, and have thought about that father many times since then. It wasn’t what the father really needed to hear, but he did take my words to heart and took some comfort in them. It was a very sad and poignant moment. I really felt the pain that father felt, and was angry with the entire ex-gay message because I saw the pain it brought to a lot of good families. Ted’s characterizing it as exploitation is right on the mark.
So, why did Ted break his confidentiality agreement?
I had to. If I don’t talk about this, this is going to keep happening. I met one man who is married and has children and he would go online to hook up with other men and he was having anonymous sex with strangers and then going home to his wife. Another man was married and making phone calls to gay-sex chat lines and his daughter discovered the bill. A lot of these men are living lies and it affects themselves, their wives, their children. I can’t stay silent about this. I feel like there’s a greater good in talking about this and exposing what’s going on. [Hyperlinks in the original]
Ex-Gay Group Threatens Legal Action To Keep Secrets Hidden
August 27th, 2009
Perennially straight writer Ted Cox has taken up an interest in ex-gay groups, and decided to go undercover for a weekend “Journey Into Manhood” seminar by the group People Can Change. Journey Into Manhood is one of those weekend manhood warrier-in-the-woods exercise that is supposed to put participants in touch with their masculine side and, thus, reduce their same-sex attractions. People Can Change claim an astounding 79% success rate, in which they define success as a decrease in same-sex attractions. People Can Change’s claims, like those of other snake-oil sale pitches, have not been subjected to peer review or outside scrutiny.
But when Cox was ready to submit his story for publication in the (Salt Lake) City Weekly, JiM founder and life coach Rich Wyler quickly intervened, urging City Weekly not to run Cox\’s story because Cox signed a confidentiality agreement barring him from speaking about the weekend,” according to the paper. Instead, the City Weekly published a two-question almost non-informative interview with Cox in which the reader learns almost nothing and must wonder why the paper chose to publish the interview in the first place — except that People Can Change has things they want to hide, and the only way to discover what their doing with their clients is to go undercover:
And the reason you have to go undercover is because there is no other way to find out what\’s going on. These organizations cloud themselves with secrecy; everything is hidden—it\’s blocked; it\’s behind confidentiality agreements. How do we know if what Wyler is doing is ethical unless someone can take a look at it and critique it?
Cox discovered Journey Into Manhood when he learned that Richard Cohen endorsed it. Journey Into Manhood is based on similar to the New Warriors Training Adventure put on by the gay-affirming Mankind Project. According to reports, the Mankind Project has decided this year to move toward transparency following the suicide of a NWTA participant in 2007.